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Superior Court gets more money

$200,000 to pay for interpreters, other costs

– It was a near miss for Allen Superior Court, which asked for nearly $200,000 from the county for interpreters, psychological evaluations and to appoint legal representation for abused and neglected children and, sometimes, their parents.

Three of seven Allen County Council members voted against the measure Thursday, including Robert Armstrong and Roy Buskirk, both R-at large, and Darren Vogt, R-3rd. The majority – Tom Harris, R-2nd, Kevin Howell, R-1st, Larry Brown, R-4th, and Bill Brown, R-at large – said yes to the request.

It was a question of accurate budgeting, said Vogt, president of the council.

Vogt said he was troubled that the department budgeted $467,000 for public defenders in 2012, with similar figures for 2010 and 2011, while only $357,000 was budgeted this year. The same was true for guardian ad litems, he said. About $160,000 was budgeted for each of the last three years with $100,000 set aside for this year.

The requested funds were over and above this year’s budget.

Vogt cautioned against making significant cuts in the annual budget only to come back later in the year and ask for more money.

Harris, liaison for the courts, agreed.

After meeting with judges, Harris decided the council needed to approve the funding request, he said.

The department does the best with what money is allotted to it, said Jerry Noble, court executive, adding that it planned to appeal its budget for 2014. The council has already approved a budget of $5.5 million, but the court has asked for an extra $310,000 to help cover costs next year.

Budget appeals will take place in September.

“When we do well, the program expands, such as the drug court,” Noble said, “and that’s a good thing.”

“We are careful (budget-wise), but when a program is successful, we like to grow that program,” he said

The drug court is incurring more costs because it is testing more frequently for more types of drugs, Allen Superior Court Judge Fran Gull said.

Vogt and Harris asked for court officials to investigate ways to cut expenses and questioned why the additional costs could not be paid with user fees.

The court is limited on accessing user fees because the services are mandated at state and federal levels, Gull said.

“Per state statue, fees can only be used to supplement the program,” Gull said, “and we are doing that.”

Paid fees aren’t always a given, Gull said.

“We are not dealing with the rich,” Gull said. “They are an indigent population and some cannot pay fees.

“If the defendant does not speak English, we must get an interpreter. If someone has mental issues, we must appoint a doctor to make sure that person is competent to stand trial.”

The court was not allowed to pick and choose based on associated costs, she said.

“We must provide equal due process and fair treatment,” Gull said. “It is what it is.”

It’s not the first time the question of the county helping pay due process costs has come up.

In October, after considerable discussion, the council agreed to distribute about $117,000 to Allen Superior Court to cover the same types of shortfalls.

Tax abatements

The council approved four tax abatements for Vera Bradley Inc.

The company is expanding and consolidating buildings, said Kevin Sierks, the company’s vice president and controller.

The abatements will save the company about $2 million in property taxes over 10 years. Vera Bradley officials have pledged to give 10 percent of the savings back to the county.

The company plans to expand its design center and distribution center. Both locations are just south of Fort Wayne, off the Lafayette Center Road exit on Interstate 69.

The company will hire about 120 new employees in the next few years, Sierks said.

It will consolidate and move about 300 current employees who are working in leased buildings to the new campus when it is finished, he said.

Vera Bradley designs and manufactures quilted cotton handbags, luggage, accessories and home décor items. The company employs more than 2,400 worldwide, including more than 800 in Indiana.

Pay taxes at kiosk

Residents will soon be able to pay property tax bills after hours or over the phone.

The council approved a request from Allen County Treasurer Sue Orth to buy a $23,000 self-service kiosk.

The machine will be placed in the hallway outside her office in the Rousseau Centre, Orth said.

Patrons will be able to use the machine as long as the building is open, Orth said. The machine is capable of making transactions in English and Spanish and will accept cash, credit cards, debit cards or checks, she said.

Residents will also be able to dial the automated system and pay their taxes over the phone at any time, she said.

The machine is expected to be in place in time for fall tax payments, Orth said.